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I’m old enough that I can remember when making an appointment with a doctor was simple. You’d telephone the office, set a date, write it on your calendar and show up at the appointed time.

But apparently the doctor’s office was worried that you weren’t thinking of them 24/7, so they changed the procedures.

Now, you start off the same way. You make an appointment with your doctor. But then they email you periodically to make sure you haven’t forgotten.

It’s not enough to email you with reminders. They have to telephone you, as well:

“Hello. This is the Blatheroo Health Center, founded in 1950 by Dr. Blatheroo himself, along with a staff of health professionals dedicated to maintaining your health at the highest-possible level at all times. If this is a medical emergency, please call someone else after you’ve listened to our lengthy message. Otherwise press the ‘listen’ key if you can find it on your keyboard.”

Of course, you’re worried that if you just hang up, you’ll miss some vital message like, “By the way, did you know you have leprosy and part of you brain is missing?”

And then there are the customer surveys that come later with many interactions: “Was the representative courteous when answering the phone?” If this happened last week, good luck on remembering.

I thought the point of computers was to save us time. Wrong! Computers were invented by clever chaps who figured if most of us were busy navigating complex pathways to fix something on our computers, then they could grab up all the good things left unattended.

Since I got a computer and spent months learning how to use it efficiently, I seem to have less, not more, free time. Whenever I finally master some computer skill, then the site I’m using decides to reorganize it, so everything is in a different place, with different instructions.

And it’s not just computer sites that have this problem.

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I thought being retired meant one would have more time for doing things one enjoyed, like drinking coffee and napping (preferably not at the same time). Instead, I seem to be spending much of my time reading instructions to something or other. “To open bag, grasp it with the left hand and tear it horizontally with the right (see illustration on package).” Then I spend time wondering if you can do it differently if you’re left-handed.

Have we become a nation of idiots who can’t do anything without instructions in a colorful brochure?

The next step will probably be instructions on how to use the instructions. “To open bag, read the instructions that you will find on the back of the package.” Then I have to figure out which is the front and which is the back of the package when they look identical. Maybe I need instructions for how to differentiate.

How did we reach this point? I can remember when manufacturers assumed people knew how to do things like opening bags and pouring out the contents without help from professionals. It was a heady time. We were in charge.

But now we are simply peons following instructions. Have we become totally brainwashed to follow any instructions we see? If we’re on a bridge and we see a sign saying, “To jump into water, climb over safety rail and heave yourself down” would we automatically follow the instructions?

I hope not.

Maybe it’s time for a revolution. A revolution against endless instructions. Time to remember how it was when we had to figure things out for ourselves. A time when we had to use our brains.

I hope our schools are teaching young people how to do this and not just giving them instructions to follow.

Of course, there are situations in which instructions are necessary, for example, brain surgery. I wouldn’t want my brain surgeon to be told, “The patient has a mass somewhere. Use your imagination and get it out.”

But when it comes to opening bags, I’d like to be left on my own.

Gretchen Becker is a former Reformer reporter and editor, who blogs about diabetes at wildlyfluctuating.blogspot.com. Vintage Musings appears monthly.


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